In Case It Wasn’t Clear Already, Apple Likes to Build Software for Apple Devices

By  |  Monday, June 13, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Over at This is My Next, Joshua Topolsky has a thought-provoking piece that says that Apple is going to discontinue its only major browser-based Web apps–the ones that are part of MobileMe–next year after iCloud is fully up and running. There’s a lively debate going on via Twitter between Topolsky and some folks who say that he has it all wrong: the MobileMe Web apps will survive the iCloud transition.

Even if the MobileMe Web apps don’t get the ax, the gist of Topolsky’s piece remains relevant. Apple filled last week’s WWDC keynote to the gills with news, but it was all about operating systems, apps, and an ambitious piece of Internet plumbing called iCloud. No surprise there: there’s never been much evidence that Apple is terribly interested in creating Web apps. But it loves to create traditional software that runs on hardware devices it builds.

You can see that in the MobileMe Web apps. They’re beautifully polished and easy to use. But rather than building services that feel natively Webby–as Google Docs, for instance, does–Apple invested its energy in creating ones that feel like excellent software that happens to run in the browser. The emphasis reflects the company’s particular interests. And iCloud, which involves real iPhone/iPad/Macs that store data on the Web, is an even better reflection of what makes Apple, well, Apple. Why try to fake Apple-quality software in the browser when you can write real software for a real Apple platform?

I used to think that Apple had some interest in building apps for hardware platforms it didn’t control; I even wondered if it might release an Android app or two at some point, if only to get the opportunity to sell content to millions of additional consumers. In retrospect, though, iTunes for Windows existed not because Apple was interested in creating Windows apps–it was just a necessary piece of connectivity to make iPods available to Windows users. The purpose of Safari for Windows remains mysterious. And FileMaker, the Apple database division that sells both OS X and Windows versions of its wares, is a special case.

One of the many implications of the arrival of iOS 5 and iCloud is the sudden demotion (to borrow Steve Jobs’ term) of iTunes for Windows from an utterly essential piece of software to an optional bit of legacy code: it’ll be possible for an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad owner to use his or her device without ever touching iTunes. I don’t expect Apple to discontinue iTunes for Windows anytime soon, but I’ll bet it’s looking forward to the prospect. Once it’s weaned users off  the software, it’ll be able to do just that.

I’m not making the case here that Apple’s apparent lack of interest in browser-based apps based entirely on Web technologies is smart, just that it’s a logical outcome of the approach that defines the company. I still think that over time, most of the things we do with local apps will migrate into apps that live mostly on the Web. It’s possible that Apple will come to wish that it had poured effort into making the MobileMe Web apps richer and more widely used.But for now, it’s just being Apple–and that’s one thing that Apple is very, very good at doing.




Read more: , , , , , , ,

8 Comments For This Post

  1. Alan Says:

    Web apps have an advantage in that they can be maintained purely at the server level – no needs to run an update procedure to get the new Google Docs feature – they just show up when you use them.

    But, compare Google Docs to Pages or Word and you see the price paid for the thin client.

  2. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    Apple's native apps also have that feature.

  3. yet another steve Says:

    It can be a disadvantage to users though when updated software suddenly performs differently, perhaps poorly, perhaps has new bugs. For non-trivial software updates can offer risk and smart users know only to update at a time they're prepared for risks and issues.

    Also in traditional software distribution (though not in Apple's app stores) you have the option of running multiple versions. If an update breaks your document or isn't worth the bother you can go back.

  4. @dlorenzet Says:

    Harry, your points about Apple's desire and affinity for making software for its own devices are well put.

    Your statement about why it makes Safari for Windows is a pretty simple to answer: I think it's to address the scores of people who, forced by their IT departments, must still work on PCs while at work, but who own Macs and use Safari on them when they are at home. Apple knows if they didn't make Safari for Windows many would be distraught and disappointed during their work weeks.

  5. @netgarden Says:

    Apple has always been about vertical integration, so as to deliver the best possible user experience. While that bucks the PC story of the past 30 years, it's hard to argue with the customer side of this, or even the developer side, for that matter.

  6. TradeTechSports Says:

    Ya it will be interesting to see how users adopt cloud based apps. Kinda hard to use in some instances, like sitting on a plane. And if Google is able to get its cloud OS to the mainstream that could have some interesting implications.

  7. Fred Says:

    I get that Apple does what Apple does for its own reasons. Transitioning from the MobileMe model to iCloud, where the internet component exists merely to shuttle data between Apple devices will presumably sell more hardware, which is how Apple makes all its money. However, if they abandon web apps entirely, what reason is there for a Windows user to use the email service, for example? There are times I want to use a PC with a keyboard, after all. With Gmail, I can use any of my computers or my iOS devices. With iCloud (unless Josh is mistaken, and I don't think he is, at least not at first), I can use only the devices. Jobs said any PC functionality will require Outlook, which I'm not installing on a home PC.

  8. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    iCloud mail is, from MobileMe. Very likely that still enables the user to access their mail in the browser, going forward. Also, Find My iPhone is there at, free to all iOS users. I doubt that the apps will be retired altogether.